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Railway stations

Page 3 – Station style

Railway stations came in all shapes and sizes, from imposing big-city monuments to elegant wooden provincial structures and tiny rural shelter sheds.

Like most buildings in colonial New Zealand, early stations were invariably made of timber. During the great Vogel rail making boom of the 1870s, staffed stations were built according to standard plans, ranging from the small Class 5 to the top-ranking Class 1 stations. The most common structure was the unstaffed flag-station, a simple weatherboard lean-to similar to a bus shelter. The name derived from the early American practice of stopping approaching trains by waving a flag.

From the turn of the 20th century larger, more attractive station buildings were erected in many provincial centres, including Blenheim, Dannevirke, Masterton, New Plymouth, Oamaru, Waimate and Wanganui. Most were designed by Railways Department architect George Troup. These buildings were still largely constructed in timber (with Marseilles tile roofs), but they featured decorative cast-iron veranda posts, bay porches, ornate gable ends and lattice windows. A handful even had clock towers or turrets. Most of these buildings have subsequently been demolished, but fine examples survive at Blenheim, Lower Hutt and Oamaru.

Big-city stations were powerful symbols of civic pride and prosperity, rivalling town halls, central post offices and court buildings in scale and splendour. Grandest of all was Troup’s stunning Dunedin station (completed in 1906), with its soaring tower, stained-glass windows, frieze of cherubs beneath the balcony and mosaic floor tiles. In the 1930s large modern stations were constructed in Auckland and Wellington.

In many cities and towns the station was part of a larger rail complex or precinct. These often included refreshment or dining rooms, marshalling yards, locomotive sheds, signal boxes, water towers, stockyards, overbridges, rail workers’ houses and huts, and a nearby railway hotel. The biggest railway settlement, at Frankton, had 160 houses and its own community hall and recreation facilities.

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Station style, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated